This isn’t my blogosphere. I have to remind myself time and time again. I’m not a Moroccan blogger. I don’t even live there anymore. I haven’t lived in Morocco since 2007, and I’m not sure when or if I will again. That time–in 2004, then from 2005 to 2007–is forever frozen in my mind as a time of great discovery for myself, and a time of great growth for the Moroccan citizen media landscape. During those few years, the Blogoma (Moroccan blogosphere) grew from a few hundred bloggers to over 50,000* as free blogging software became more widespread and Internet more widely available to Moroccans.
When I started blogging from Morocco in 2005, I was one of very few people doing so in English. The English-language bloggers at the time were, like me, mostly foreigners, and mostly in big cities. The rest of the blogosphere, mostly Francophone, was also scattered throughout the larger cities–Fez, Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, Marrakesh–and the diaspora.
Now, before you accuse me of favoring my native language, hear me out: Morocco, a former French colony, is well-known in the Francophone world. Restaurants serving up Moroccan cuisine dot the streets of Paris, and Arabic words like kleb have found their way into the slang of French teenagers. In the U.S., however, and perhaps beyond, Morocco is at best an exotic faraway land of souqs and camels, at worst just another nation of the amorphous Arab world.
Thus, in 2007, when I started writing for Global Voices, one of my goals was to help bring the ever-growing Moroccan blogosphere to the English-speaking realm via translation. With lots of help (my French and Arabic are okay, but I’m no translation guru), and eventually alongside Talk Morocco co-founder Hisham, who joined in 2009, I’ve been doing so for three years.
Over time, more Moroccans started blogging in English, or sometimes in multiple languages, more translation projects cropped up, and, with the spread of Internet accessibility in rural Morocco, even Peace Corps Volunteers started sending dispatches via blogs from some of the country’s most remote villages, making Morocco ever more accessible, not just to tourists, but to those with a deeper interest in the what makes the country tick.
What the Blogoma provides is a snapshot into reality. Morocco is many things. It is the donkeys carrying Coca-Cola on their backs up the steep paths of Fez Al Bali, but it is also the Blogoma rising up to protest the exclusion of their voices in an approval poll of the King (see: “Je Suis Un 9%“). It is the transportation strikes in the southern part of the country, almost entirely ignored by the media, it is the forever-overcrowded train from Rabat to Fez, and it is the unfortunate gentrification of the Marrakesh medina, but it is also the beauty of the Fez Festival of Sacred Music, the Swiss-looking anomaly of the town of Ifrane, and yes, it is the mystical wonder of the Djemaa al Fna. Morocco is all of those things and then some, but you would never know it just by reading the New York Times.
And that’s just what’s so important about the Blogoma, especially for someone like me living in the United States. If I wanted to find out about the country–ignoring blogs for the moment–my options are limited. There are guidebooks, marketed toward tourists fascinated by the mystique of Morocco; there are Western media sources, more interested in fanning the flames of fascination than giving a realistic picture of the country; there’s the Maghreb Arab Presse…don’t get me started on that.
In other words, without the Blogoma, Moroccan voices remain virtually unknown to non-Francophone readers. The idea is not to replace the natural language of the Blogoma, of course, but to translate and amplify as much of it as possible, giving foreign readers a taste of what Morocco is all about.
*This is an educated guess. Nobody has actually done a study on the size of the Blogoma.