According to Wikipedia, there are about 700,000 people living in Tangier right now. That makes Tangier roughly 70 times bigger than my hometown. I’m from the rural “village” of North Branch, Minnesota. If I remember my 6th grade history class correctly, it was founded in 1861 by some Swedish potato farmers. Since then, it’s expanded and contracted with population and industrial changes as a small northern suburb of the Twin Cities.
This contrasts with the history of Tangier—it was founded in the fifth century by some Carthaginian colonists. (Don’t worry–I had to Google “Carthaginian” too). In the last 25 years, the population has quadrupled due to a rural-urban migration. The culture and diversity (not to mention the Mediterranean climate) have attracted writers, playwrights, painters and musicians. Even the great American Jack Kerouac visited Tangier. The city served as a “playground” for wealthy folk and a “meeting place for secret agents and all kinds of crooks,” especially during the Cold War era of espionage. Sounds pretty glamorous for a small town girl like me.
Tangier relies on tourism and investments in tourist infrastructure to sustain its economy. There’s a port at the Strait of Gibraltar which manages people and goods. There’s lots of artisanal trade, including leatherworking, handicrafts made from wood and silver, traditional clothing, and shoes.
North Branch relies on all sorts of things to keep its economy going. Life is tough out in the boondocks, but we rely on agriculture (corn and soybeans), education (ISD #138 is the largest employer in the county), and small shops (Outlet Mall, Shopko, and Main Street shoppes). North Branch isn’t a center for tourism or travel—unless commuting to the cities for work constitutes travel. In my lifetime, a lot of new shops and infrastructure has popped up; a new bridge was completed a few years ago to manage the increasing traffic flow on Highway 95.
The trademark of North Branch is the people. The reason you should visit is the smallness, the closeness, and the “ruralness” of the community. We complain about gossip, about gas prices, and about the way our school district never has enough money. But we also mow our neighbor’s lawn and plow his driveway, we show up when tragedy shakes a local family or business, and we will always cheer the loudest under the Friday Night Lights. We might not have Mediterranean weather, but we sure do pay attention to the way the seasons change.
When I land in Tangier, I might not miss North Branch right away. I’ll be too busy figuring out how to use an ATM in Arabic, making new friends, and discovering the museums and mosques. But I suspect after a bit of observation and summer of experiences, I’ll discover that Tangier and North Branch have the same heart—the people.
Want some more information about Tangier? Need to know where North Branch is on the map?