Americans are well aware that time moves a bit more slowly in other parts of the world. This is surely true in Morocco. Everyone walks a bit slower here, greeting everyone they meet with long and detailed inquiries (“How are you? How is your family? How is your health? How is your work? How is your cousin that was sick last year?”). The concept of being “late” is generally not a concern, which changes one’s perception of the trek to and from places entirely — to less of a means of reaching an end and more of a leisurely stroll to be enjoyed, an end in and of itself.
This aspect of Morocco has been easy for me to adjust to. If you’ve ever met me before, you’d understand that “being late” is more of a constant and less of thing to be avoided. After living in Washington, DC for four years, with its go go go attitude and signature power walk, I’m happy to be embracing a lifestyle that is more relaxed, to be looking up at the sights and sounds around me rather than at my feet.
But Morocco’s relationship with time doesn’t stop there.
In Morocco, the seemingly innocent question of “What time is it?” isn’t simple at all.
You see, Morocco didn’t begin observing Daylight Savings Time until 2008 — just seven years ago — after abandoning the practice in the late 1970s due to unpopularity with the Moroccan people (foreshadowing). Despite the official adoption of the DST practice in 2012, the country has yet to follow predictable start and end dates and often changes or extends the practice at the last minute.
This year we observed Daylight Savings Time on March 29, 2015, moving our clocks forward one hour.
Or at least some of us changed our clocks…
In big cities with lots of businesses and bustling streets (read: northern Morocco, like Casablanca or Rabat) the practice is almost universally adopted. But here in my little rural town in the desert things get a bit more complicated. Some people change, and some people don’t. Which means asking the question “What time is it?” requires a lot of follow up questions, most importantly of which is “old time or new time?” — specifying pre-time change as “old” and time change as “new.”
Which leads me to conversations like this one, with my Moroccan dad:
Me: What time should I meet you at the gym tomorrow?
Omar: 9 o’clock.
Me: Is that 9 o’clock new time or old time?
Omar: There is only one time.
Me: Okay but is your time the new time or the old time?
Omar: New time. Abir remember there is only one time.
Me: Okay I will remember.
While on the same day having this conversation with one of my Moroccan mamas:
Me: What time should I come over for couscous on Friday?
Rkkia: You can come at any time, but be here by 1.
Me: New time or old time?
Rkkia: Abir you know I don’t change the time.
Me: So old time then?
Rkkia: Yes, old time. Why do we need to change the time?
The start of Daylight Savings Time means the start of memorizing who goes by what schedule.
New time: my Moroccan dad Omar (but not his wife Saidiya), the post office, the Peace Corps office in Rabat, the ministry buildings, official public transportation (trains, buses between cities)
Old time: my Moroccan mama Rkkia and her family, pretty much every other family, all local stores
And then there are the things that operate on both schedules. Here in my town the schools change their class times with DST — but they use new time in the morning and old time in the afternoon. The Dar Chebab where I work operated on new time until I begged the mudir (my boss) to change the hours to old time so that more of my students could participate in activities in the evenings.
Just when you think you’ve gotten it all figured out — BAM — Ramadan hits. And the clocks change again, as Daylight Savings Time is not observed during the holy month. The whole country goes back to old time (or continues on with old time).
On Saturday we celebrated Eid Sghir (or Eid Al-Fitr) in Morocco, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, with it marking the third time change of the year.
And back to the old question we go — what time is it?!