I’ve been a resident of Ifrane for four months now and its about time I describe the town and my ever-shifting relationship with it.
Ifrane is a summer resort/winter ski town, established during the French protectorate, intended as a getaway for rich French families. Red-roofed, swiss-style villas with large yards are still laid out along pretty, tree-lined streets. Most of these houses are now owned by rich Moroccans living elsewhere, and stay boarded up during the majority of the year. A poorer area of town grew to house the people that served the rich vacationers, separated by the town’s ravine.
Al Akhawayn University was established in 1995 with funds from Saudi Arabia’s king. It is an American-curriculum university, and it feels like an expensive American private school. The library is filled with materials in English, on-campus dorms look like high-end apartments, the landscaping is immaculate (walking on the grass: 100 dirham fine) and there is even an olympic size pool on campus.
There still exists a large divide here in Ifrane. The university is physically separated from town, almost militantly guarded. Cultural events and lectures are usually not open to the public. If there exists much community outreach, outside the official community service club, I certainly don’t see it. Ifrane is expensive, and people who can’t afford to live in single family houses in centerville live in my area of town or across the ravine, or work in Ifrane but live in Azrou 17 km away or small Zaouia Sidi Abdelselam 7km away.
I live in a large apartment complex called Salawi in the south end of town, near the central market and public housing structures. It feels very different from centerville: less like a resort town and more like small town Morocco. Many families live here all year and there are always kids playing in the courtyard, women chatting, and men keeping a watch on things.
At first, I hated it here. It was so cold: it snowed in March and I used my large gas heater up until the first week of June.
Experiencing the town’s divide can be uncomfortable, especially as I work on campus and live in Salawi. It still feels strange, especially on Fridays, when I watch Audis, Mercedes and BMW’s speed out of the university’s parking lot.
Dealing with living in Salawi as a single woman on her own was a real challenge. I missed the sense of community I felt in Fez. For better or worse, in my old neighborhood in Fez, my neighbors and local vendors knew who I was and what I was doing. Initially, there was none of that here. Men I had barely met through my landlady, or at the downstairs store, or just hanging out in the courtyard literally came knocking at my door. I agonized over each interaction and dreaded those knocks. Turning down male bids for friendship, even when I knew exactly what they really wanted, made me feel like I was losing my humanity. Now, though, I’ve established myself as a respectable member of the Salawi community and these interactions have stopped.
Sometime last month I finally adjusted. I’ve established myself as a semi-permanent resident of the building, and gotten to know other long-term residents. (Many apartments here are rented out nightly for vacationing families.) I’ve made friends in Ifrane, gotten to know the building managers, and just like that, feel a sense of community again. Of course, it also helps that Ifrane is a wonderful place to live in the summer. It is sunny but relatively cool. I ride my bike all around town. There are many clean, public gardens with walking paths, benches, garbage cans and playgrounds for kids. I can’t express how rare this is in Morocco, or at least, in the Morocco I’ve experienced. Rarely do clean inner-urban green spaces exist.
Now that school is over, and can’t spend any time at Al Arz middle school, I’ve had more time to review Arabic and have even started taking basic French classes in Azrou. For the past few weeks I’ve also spent more time with Ito in Tarmilat, and have enjoyed visitors from Fez.
Turns out Ifrane has its charms.