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From the air, Morocco looked a lot like central Fremont County looks

Apr 18, 2014 - By Chris Peck

Most of the similarities ended when we reached the ground.

Wyoming looks a lot like Morocco.

That was the first thought to fill my mind as the British Airways 757 glided down toward Marrakesh to take me on vacation a few days ago in faraway city made famous by an old Crosby, Stills and Nash song.

Looking out from 10,000 feet, Morocco was not that different from the approach to Riverton Regional Airport.

Dry plains as far as the eye could see. Snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Once on the ground, suffice it to say it wasn't like driving down West Main.

No, driving from Marrakesh International Airport to our tranquil lodging at Peacock Pavilions was more akin to navigating an Indiana Jones movie: donkeys and carts trotting among motorbikes carrying moms, dads and the kids all on two wheels; old Mercedes taxis sharing the road with cars made in Romania; all kinds of distractions along the way -- from camel rides, to fresh-squeezed orange juice stands, and guys selling fake Rolex watches for $30.

Morocco, wedged between Libya and Algeria on the North African coast, is a country run by a king -- Mohammed VI.

Members of the king's family have been on the throne in Morocco for the last 400 years. After the French left a couple of decades ago, the king's fortune has grown to $2.5 billion.

Morocco's fortunes as a nation have improved, too. People have enough to eat. They have electricity. They can vote for members of Parliament.

Tourists from Europe come there for a quick weekend away. Moroccan dates, spices and intricately carved brass light fixtures now are exported around the world.

My visit to Morocco came as a result of my in-laws who, over the last decade or so, have invited me to join them in a variety of far away vacations.

There's something powerful about getting out of your own comfort zone in travel. And it's not just the sore lower back that comes from sitting on an airplane through six time zones.

When you go away, you learn about yourself. You see things differently. You cannot help but realize that the world you know and the place you live are but tiny sliver of a much larger, more complex, and remarkable planet Earth.

Morocco is 99 percent Muslim.

Six times a day, an Imam gets on a loudspeaker and calls out for men and women to stop what they are dong and pray.

Wyoming is 99 percent Christian.

The only siren call most people in the state here involves the volunteer fire department.

Due to the decade of our dramatic "war on terrorism," most people in this county have been introduced to Islam through the lens of Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda bombers, and shrill calls from the Islamic fringe for holy wars against America.

But 5,000 miles from Riverton, it's not like that.

They are worried about terrorists, too.

They want their government to be fair to the people, but also to keep an eye on the radical fringe.

They take pride in the fact that their nation is welcoming to all. Christians. Jews. Muslims. The only people they don't much welcome are rich sheiks from the Persian Gulf who come to Morocco to party too much.

Still, going to Morocco isn't like a drive to Casper.

When you get there, they speak Arabic, Berber, and French.

Young girls all wear head scarves.

Men walk the street in long one-piece jelabas and finish off their wardrobes with yellow leather shoes.

There are no bars except in a few tourist hotels.

Families love lamb dinners, and eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast. They have great drinking water. Almost no one is fat.

They laugh heartily.

No, it's not a paradise.

There, too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands.

Girls have a struggle to get the same education and career opportunities as boys.

Not every house has a bathroom -- or even a kitchen.

Back home, I felt a renewed appreciation for our creature comforts, our easy diversity when it comes to matters of faith.

But in Morocco I was reminded once again to keep an open mind about places and people that are vibrant, warm and striving -- even 5,000 miles away.

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