Jackie Steves' Morocco Journal
|My village sister Nzha and me.|
Here are the highlights from reflections on my trip to Morocco in the summer of 2007, between my junior and senior years of high school.
While I have traveled around the U.S. and Europe, this was my first trip outside of my comfort zone. Compared to the rest of the world, my family is very well-off. I am usually surrounded in material comfort at home and at the wealthy prep school my friends and I go to. Neither is extremely ostentatious; however, my lifestyle has reflected that money aint-no-thang in my sheltered teenage world. It has bothered me to live in this way fully knowing that most other children are living in poverty. There is absolutely no justification for this inequality except that for some strange reason God decided that I would be born in Redmond, Washington and the other child in Darfur. Since life is so unfair for no reason it seems to me that God has left it up to us to compensate for it all.
Sure, an easy path in life would be to choose a financially profitable major, marry a person just like myself, settle in the safety of suburbia, vacation to places like Hawaii and Paris, and live the American lifestyle without stopping to consider its implications.
When one person on this Earth has more than they can possibly consume or need and another is left without enough to even live, there is a serious problem — one that I want to face. Call me communist, but that makes perfect sense to me. By embracing American culture, and no other, it is as if we are wearing blinders like horses. Who wants to settle with one lifestyle and the ignorant belief that it is the best when you have no idea what treasures and enlightenment others provide? Many people subscribe to American lifestyles because they equate comfort with the high degree of consumerism — I'll admit that I do too. But with my decision to go on this trip I am hoping to free myself from at least some of the bonds of materialism. I don't want to be dependent on a Starbucks latte, a nice car, and oversized food portions for comfort. I want to immerse myself in poverty in such a way that I can't come home and bring myself to spend $200 on designer jeans like I have before.
|We had three Arabic lessons with our teacher (bottom right).|
Besides the material aspect, I also wanted to learn about a country that is Muslim and African. My French is pretty good and that will help me get around. I hope to learn some Arabic. Current events have pitted the USA and Islam against each other. It's crucial that we learn about "terrorist" countries' cultures because only then can we overcome our differences, and view them for what they really are instead of simplistically condemning them as "terrorist."
I'm going on this trip for one month with 12 students and three adult members with my school.
A Cute Young Worker in Casablanca
From the first minute in Morocco, it was clear this would be a trip packed with learning and memories. When I was getting my passport stamped at the airport in Casablanca by this cute young worker, I couldn't stop smiling because I was so excited to be in a place where security men were actually friendly. (It felt like pre-9/11 America.) He asked me with a grin, "Why did you leave out your maiden name? Aren't you married yet?" I responded, "Non monsieur. J'ai dix-sept ans. Je suis trop jeune!"
On our bus ride to Rabat, every little hut and house we pass has a satellite dish atop. Mr. B (who lives and teaches in Seattle, but is a native of Morocco) explains that nearly every Moroccan home, no matter how poor or uneducated its inhabitants, has a TV and a satellite dish. They don't pay a cable provider, but they essentially "steal" Turkish, Spanish, French, and other channels. They watch lots of soap operas, but also more serious news channels like Al-Jazeera. As the press is government-controlled and far from free in most countries across Islam, Al-Jazeera (their cable news which is not government-sponsored) is considered the real news. It is technically illegal, but too rampant for the government to control. Pornography, according to Mr. B, is a big problem. Such "immoral programs" empower the Islamists who blame Western influences and don't want any of it allowed in their country. The people respond to such immoral influences by clinging tight to their traditional religious beliefs.
|My 10-year-old host sister Karima and me in the courtyard of her house.|
Mr. B says 15 years ago Morocco had no freeways like the one we are driving on right now. They are relatively new, and we have stopped several times to pay at toll booths.
Meeting My Host Family
Our first stop was the capital city of Rabat. As I walked through the marketplace, men were aggressive with their eyes as they looked me up and down. They would whistle and say things in what I think was Arabic. This surprised me because it doesn't seem to jive with the conservative Muslim culture.
I think they did this especially to us because we looked different. I certainly was not asking for it with the modest clothing I wore. We were walking past an old solemn man when we suddenly heard a deep voice in English say, "You know you love me." Yes, it came from that same old man.
A young boy, who actually looked like those you see on TV, so poor and hungry that the fleas bother them as if they were road kill, came and touched my arm begging for money. I wished I had something to give him but I painfully forced myself to keep walking and ignore him.
We found the neighborhood where we would be scattered among our local "parents" for a week. Meeting my family was exciting. My 15-year-old "sister," Fatima, speaks French, English, Arabic, and classic Arabic. I was a little taken aback when she told me I spoke French with an American accent — ouch! Sometimes she understands my English better, but sometimes she understands my French better. (It's especially disappointing when I'm trying to explain something in French and she asks me to "speak French!")
|My 15-year-old host sister, Fatima, in the entrance to her house|
My "parents" are both very friendly and welcoming. My "dad" speaks some French. Fatima has a 10-year-old sister, Karima, a 12-year-old brother, Larby, and several older brothers who live outside the house (one works in Chicago at McDonalds, and another lives with and takes care of their grandmother).
Their house seems sparse and simple compared to my own and those of my friends in Seattle. I get the feeling, however, that they are relatively well-off Moroccans. All the rooms open up to a sort of courtyard in the center of the house. The walls are decorated with pages torn from magazines of celebrities. (Usher included!)
Saving your Lips for Marriage
Four girls took Elise, Brandon, and me on a walk through the Old Medina, to the beach, and through the New Medina. Karima is like a silly little monkey tickling and tapping me. She is adorable and by the end of the night she has officially nicknamed me "Jackie Chan." Fatima is very nice. In general, she understands my French better than my English. It turns out that they can't understand any of our French speaking very well. So that made me feel a little better about mine and my accent. The beach was such a cool gathering place at sunset. Some people were playing drums or soccer while others were there just to socialize.
|My girlfriends and Mr. B in the center at a beach in Essaouira.|
Fatima managed to answer many of my questions on topics like smoking, marriage, anti-Semitism, politics, and so on. She said that smoking is technically forbidden, but it is acceptable for only men. I asked her if she thought this was unfair and she did, but she seemed nonchalant about it. Dating is not permitted by parents here unless you are considering marriage. She said that sometimes it is done in secret anyway, but you are not even to kiss until you are married. Girls get married between the ages of 18 and 30, but once you pass 30 you will never get married. About Jews: Fatima said if people in Arabic countries are anti-Semitic, it's for political reasons — only because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are on the side of the Palestinians. At the same time, Jews in Morocco feel accepted as part of the community. She said "we treat them like we would a fellow Muslim. If some Muslims are 'racist against Jews' I think they are that way because of politics not religion." She said they don't like President Bush or Tony Blair, but they like Americans very much.
They asked what Americans thought of Arabs. I tried to explain that we love Arabs and that is why we have come, but that there are many uneducated Americans who equate Arabs with terrorism. She told us that she knows about these simple-minded Americans who accept anything they see on TV.
We didn't return home until around 9:30. I was expecting to be greeted by an angry mother who'd had to keep dinner waiting. But instead the mother was just happy to see us and feed us.
I really like the cheek-cheek kiss because it is intimate yet less awkward than a hug can potentially be.
|My village mom, Fatima.|
Much of what Moroccans watch on TV is Hollywood with all its promiscuity. It's interesting how some of that stuff gets a reaction out of my own mother at home, but here they just watch it and don't even really recognize it — in the same culture where girls are not allowed to date, certainly not kiss, and are expected to wear very modest clothing. It is my interpretation, however, that they are simply not influenced nearly as easily as most ignorant Americans.
It seems like the little brother, Larby, is not as nice to his mother as his sisters are and he gets away with it because he is male. He and his father never step foot in the kitchen. Even my sisters do little to help out. My "mom" does basically all of the food preparation. Random observation: my "mother" burps after dinner like it's nothing. Burping is not regarded as rude or gross.
I wish I had wire to shoot all my thoughts from my brain to this journal because there are so many things I want to write about. As I take time to write one thought down I think of five others, but by the time I have finished writing the first I have forgotten the others.
Sweet Mint Tea and the Turkish Toilet
|My village family's Turkish toilet.|
Upon our request, our "mom" taught us how to make the sweet mint tea we are served five or six times each day. She showed us how to break off clumps of stem with mint leaves on them and wash them in the sink. You put a large handful of these leaves in an empty pot with a heaping spoon of tea (from China) and four big cubes of sugar. You pour in a little boiling water and pour it out through the filtered spout. Then you fill it with boiling water and let it steep. It takes much more work than the tea I make at home and has a heck of a lot more sugar!
The statement "humans can get used to anything" has proven true in the case of my family's Turkish toilet. During my first day here, I dreaded having to use it. By the third day I was completely used to its smell, the squatting, the taming of the flow, and the bucket of water flush technique. I have also grown accustomed to most everything else: the huge amount of food many times a day including dinner at 9 or 10, the TV on during meals, the getting laughed at when I say or do something wrong, and so on. I think I will miss all this very much.
Moving from City to Village
After a week in Rabat we were headed into the Atlas Mountains where we would settle into a remote village for the last three weeks of our program.
This morning I said a sad and difficult goodbye to my Rabat family. I hugged and kissed each of them many times. I will definitely miss them, but I hope we stay in touch and maybe even see each other again in the future.
We rode six hours by bus from Rabat to a small rural village. The driver whipped around sharp turns, honking without slowing down to warn whoever may be around the corner because there was no way of actually seeing.
|Bus ride from Rabat to the village in the Atlas mountains.|
We reached the village, threw all our bags atop a van and crammed inside. The small van was so crammed I'm surprised we made it up the hill. I felt like we were about to tip several times even though we were only creeping along at around 10 mph. When the van could go no further, we piled out with our bags and trekked up another hill to the house of our "host," the Hajj, where we were served tea. As he called out host family assignments, Mr. B called my name third and I went forward to kiss who would be my "mother" for the next three weeks. Mr. B said, "She speaks no French, English, or Arabic — only Tamazight, but you will have a lot of fun with her." She kept laughing and talking. When I picked up my bag to follow her home she took it from me and loaded it onto a donkey along with the bags of my classmates Brandon, Zoe, and Kevin, and we all began to descend the hill together.
During the journey my "mom" along with all the other townspeople who walked along with us or watched from the side of the road laughed and laughed. I wondered, "Do they always laugh this much or are they laughing at us?"
We were greeted by my new sister, 12-year-old Hafida, when my mom, Fatima (like my sister in Rabat!), and I reached home. Hafida immediately took my hand and led me into a small room with a bed, a rug, a small table and a soccer poster. This was the guest room where I would sleep. She sat down with me on my bed and was very touchy and smiley. She speaks French and we communicate well. She is extremely friendly. I met her 15-year-old brother, Lahssen, who is also very friendly. Hafida wore a matching red sweat outfit that says "pretty." Lahssen wore a Harry Potter t-shirt. I met their 9-year-old brother, Rashid, who is cute, shy, and doesn't say much. Today was their last day of school. Their dad works in Marrakesh.
I told them that I play piano and they brought in a small electric keyboard that they were very proud of. None of the keys worked — only the button that made a little rhythm melody. They also brought in the speakers and DVD player of their TV to use as a stereo to play CDs. Hafida and Lahssen danced together in a Hindi style. It was so cute the way they danced with each other with so much energy.
|My village family.|
Fatima, Hafida, Lahssen, and Rashid all sleep together on the floor in one bedroom that has a small TV. We watched a Hindi film that was very Bollywood with a sappy love story, dancing and singing. Hafida is extremely cuddly. I don't know why Americans aren't more like this. It's like we aren't as loving the way we maintain such a large personal bubble. It feels nice to cuddle with a "sister," while watching TV for instance, because it is a great form of interaction and feeling close with someone.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, little neighbor boys would stop by and hang out for a little while. They wouldn't even say much, but I could tell they were intrigued by the way I looked different because they would stare at me with their beautiful dark wide eyes like my little brother does.
I'm writing in my bed right now with flies buzzing all around me as I watch bugs crawl across the walls. That may sound terrible, but I'm actually already comfortable here. When I arrived just 8 hours ago I was very apprehensive and afraid that I would be suffering for 3 weeks. Now most of my fears have already subsided.
Henna and Generosity
|Me with henna on my hands.|
My mom and older sister, Mina, ground up what looked like dried parsley and mixed it with water to create a paste. They did a careful job of applying the paste over a stencil pattern sticker on my palms, and the sides and bottoms of my feet. It was 11 at night and we were outside in the dark so they asked to borrow my flashlight. We had to wait a little bit for it to dry and then peel it off to leave a pretty orange tattoo. They also did Mina's hands and feet and some scorpions on the arms of the boys. It reminded me of a group of girls back home together painting each other's nails. At that moment I felt very close and at ease with these women.
I have witnessed farting, burping, and picking of the nose with much less notice given to it than at home. It is essentially ignored as if it is not gross at all, like scratching an itch.
A Moroccan value is sharing to the extreme. When I told Hafida I liked her necklace she took it off and gave it to me. I tried to resist, but she insisted. If you consider how little they have this is really significant. It's the same with hospitality in Morocco. Everyone is incredibly gracious.
|My mom applying henna to the sides and bottoms of my feet.|
We're Dropping Like Flies
We made this traditional Moroccan soup, Hrira, at the center, which consisted of tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, celery, onion, flour, rice, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Many of us, including myself, began to feel tired and sick. It's been really hot and some of us walk a ways to get to the center. I had a stomach and head ache. I feel like we're such a wimpy group of Americans, but we really can't help it. We aren't used to the heat and other different aspects of the lifestyle. Mr. B said it was probably 105 degrees. The best way to respond is drink a lot of water, rest, and don't exert oneself. Yesterday, one girl from our group got really dehydrated and started crying and hyperventilating. Today another girl broke down crying. We joked about how we are dropping like flies. One girl is sick, too.
When I got home today I was really tired, but I helped make dinner anyway. We made some tasty French fries and a variety of other small dishes. I just now noticed white splotchy things on my arm. I really hope I don't get sick.
Last night was the worst night of sleep I've had all trip. My allergies were acting up and I felt feverish. Add to that: I haven't taken a shower for 5 days and my mattress and pillow feel harder than the floor.
When my family does dishes they put all the food scraps in a bucket of water. When they are done they simply throw the contents out across their courtyard. It is probably the cause of all the flies we have here. Each morning when they wake up around five, Hafida sweeps the courtyard.
|Elise, Hanane, me, and Brandon walking down a residential alley.|
Material Well-Being and a Simple Smile
As I explained in the beginning of my journal, one of my hopes for the trip was to become less materialistic. I was expecting for this to be facilitated by pure guilt and the concept that if these people are so poor it would be unfair for me to have more. This hasn't been the case at all though. It would be easy to go home and continue my same luxurious lifestyle. However, I can take this opportunity to meditate on the meager lifestyle of my family and take away from that the realization of real need. The question I will ask myself is, "How much do I really need to be happy?" This question is addressed by many of the philosophies I studied in the Philosophy elective I took this past spring. Many would argue that excess material wealth actually leads to unhappiness.
What I have already learned so far on this trip that I expect will be solidified by the remaining two weeks is that these people I have lived with, who probably have 1/100th as much as my real family, seem just as happy. They may not all know how to read. Their TV may receive only one staticky channel. They may not own a fridge, shower, phone, or more than one bed. They may never visit/see beyond the closest Moroccan city. The women may get pregnant over and over without access to birth control. Despite all this, they never lack reason to smile, laugh, hug, and kiss each other.
They prize hospitality so highly that they are more than happy to welcome me, a stranger, into their house to sleep in their only bed, and eat the little and basic food they can afford for three weeks. You don't need to worry about make up, answering the phone/email, kids getting into drugs, owning the hottest pair of jeans, or getting into the best university. There are always plenty of siblings around to play with, the whole family does chores together, they eat every meal together and they smother each other with kisses whenever they feel like it.
|Audrey sewing a goatskin drum.|
This morning, a man from the village led us into the woods to show us how to make drums. He had two goatskins laid out for us. He told us that the goats had been killed just this morning. The sight and especially the smell were absolutely disgusting. We were supposed to pick the hair off these skins with our bare hands. I knew I wouldn't be able to because only the sight made me sick to my stomach. A few brave souls stepped up to do the gross task. We were given branches of myrrh to hold to our noses in order to replace the terrible scent of the skins. After the hair had been removed, he washed the skins and stretched them over circular wood structures. The excess skin that he cut off he used to cut threads for sewing the skin to the wood. We took turns sewing the drum. While disgusting, it was pretty cool to watch. I was pretty determined not to touch it though. Tons of flies, attracted to the strong odor, swarmed all around us.
I realized the families living around my family's house are actually all cousins, aunts, and uncles. Each day when we go pick up Brandon I pass these stairs at the top of which the Grandma sits all the time. How cool is that — to live in a house surrounded by cousins? Any random little kid I see running around (there are always lots) I ask if they are a cousin of Hafida and they usually are! I can't imagine how fun it would be to live in a bunch of houses filled with my cousins.
My mom is one hilarious woman. She burps loudly after meals and then asks with motions of burping and farting if that is mzien (good) in America. I just pretend like sure, it's normal, Americans do it too. She loves laughing about that.
Girls Can't Play...
|We organized a soccer game for all the girls in the village.|
I was starting to get so frustrated about having to accommodate for gender restrictions here. The village girls won't get to play in the big village soccer game — they have to play separately. We can't teach them Tae Kwan Do for the sake of self-defense because that would involve body contact. We need to make sure no males are around during the cooking workshop so that the women participating will feel at ease and comfortable enough to talk. Just talking about all these things made me feel so claustrophobic and angry. All these girls must feel so trapped and suppressed. How do they ever let out pent-up energy or emotion? Boys can run around, fight each other and even hit their sisters, but sisters rarely hit back and they are not really supposed to play soccer or run around much.
We had a huge soccer match over at the soccer field with all the kids in the village, except only the older ones played. Since soccer is not really my thing I only played a little just for the sake of defying the gender restrictions — no village girls were allowed to play with us. While I was on the sideline we reminisced a lot about back home (food, concerts, stories). It's amazing how long we can be entertained by talking about the food we miss.
During our bus ride back to the village, I began feeling nauseous. While stopped at the supermarket I told Mr. B I wanted to throw up. He walked me over to the shade and waited while I tried and failed. I endured an hour or two (what seemed like 10) of extremely uncomfortable and nauseous bus ride before grabbing a plastic bag and throwing up what distantly resembled my lunch of chicken brochette and fries.
Unfortunately the bag I had grabbed had a gaping hole so most all of my vomit sloshed onto the floor of the bus. Everyone was very considerate giving me towel, Kleenex, and water. The bus driver pulled over at the Barrage (the gorgeous dam about an hour away from our home village). I felt terrible when Mr. B cleaned up my vomit and wouldn't let me help, insisting that I go out and get some fresh air. I felt much better after throwing up, but my nausea soon returned. Mr. B and Ms. R came to my side as I tried to throw up again, but I instead blacked out and had to lie down on the ground briefly. They splashed water on me, told me I had turned completely white and that they were going to take me to the doctor who happened to be nearby. They helped me into the front seat of the bus where I threw up again. It wasn't a pretty picture.
I was very dizzy when I stood up so they had to prop me up while I walked into the doctor's office. The doctor was a beautiful, tall, slender young woman all covered up except for her face. She did a check up. I had very low blood pressure. She gave me Tylenol in suppository form (aah!). She wanted to give me an injection to stop the vomiting, but Mr. B declined. I was laying down this whole time because when I sat or stood up I would get very dizzy.
They eventually walked me over to the doctor's house where I would spend the night. The entire time Ms. R would ask me lots of silly questions (like about my favorite subjects) to make sure I was conscious and sensible. I still had to lie down and sit up just a little to drink very small amounts of water. I threw up one more time in the doctor's house. It was really hot in the room and I had a high fever. They put cold damp towels all over me. The doctor cooked for me some carrots and potatoes saying it was important I eat to neutralize my stomach acid; I ate about four small pieces. It was really difficult and painful because I felt like I would throw it up and it was very unappetizing for me. I kept dozing off from exhaustion. Ms. R woke me up in the middle of the night to have me self-administer two more Tylenol suppositories. The rest of the group slept in the dorms of the nearby high school.
I slept well and when I woke up the next morning I felt a lot better. I wasn't as dizzy when I sat up. I had abdominal pain and a headache. The doctor felt different spots on my belly and concluded that the pain I felt was really located in my intestines from food that was stuck in there upsetting it.
Mr. B and Ms. R made up their minds that Mr. B would take me in a taxi to the hospital two hours away in Marrakesh. I dizzily made my way out to the taxi. The taxi drove very fast, so I had to keep my stomach in check around the curves and over the bumpy parts. It was really hot and I sweated up a storm.
We got to the clinic and Mr. B held my hand as I walked feebly in. He explained that this was a private clinic, where you have to pay, as opposed to public clinics, where you don't have to pay, but where the wait can be very long. I felt everyone's eyes on me with my fair skin, basketball shorts, and t-shirt (scantily clad compared to the covered-up women all around me). Mr. B had me sit down while he told the front desk that his "daughter" needed to be seen. There really was no wait. A doctor looked at me and decided I should check into a room so that they could re-hydrate me, take care of my constipation, and run some tests.
A nurse rode the elevator with us upstairs to a floor with two plasma screens in the hall, and a pretty fancy waiting area on one end. My room even had a small plasma on the wall and a balcony. It felt more like a hotel room. Mr. B said money can get you a lot in Morocco.
They gave me an IV in my right arm and took a little bit of blood from my left arm. They had given me probably six different packs of liquid through my IV (to hydrate, antibiotics, prevention of nausea, pain killer, and so on). It really freaks me out to think about that needle pumping so much liquid into my small vein.
All the nurses are very nice. I love watching Mr. B interact with them. Even though I can't understand it all, I can tell that the conversations are so playful and friendly. They kept asking him if I was his daughter. He would say "like a daughter," but actually student. He is very considerate and caring. To me he has been "like a mother."
A specialist doctor came to see me — I think that would mean a gastroenterologist. He decided that they should try to "evacuate" my constipation and take an X-ray to make sure everything looked OK even though he doesn't think they will find anything wrong. They are trying to problem-solve with these tests to check if it was food poisoning, and make sure it's not appendicitis or typhoid fever.
So last night I was feeling a lot of pain in the abdominal area and my chest. A nurse came in and massaged my stomach. Mr. B walked me up and down the hall and that also made it feel better. They thought the pain was due to my constipation so they carried out the "evacuation." (I will spare the gory details.)
I woke up with most of the pain gone and only feelings of soreness and weakness. They took me down to the basement to take an X-ray of my abdominal area to make sure there hadn't been serious damage. The results looked fine and normal.
I was ready to be discharged and they removed my IV. (I watched them pull it out!) Mr. B and I packed up and left. It was slightly hard to say goodbye to the TV, comfortable mattress, and familiar sit-down toilet. At the same time I was so happy to be feeling healthy again and excited to rejoin the group in the village.
|The group in front of the king's palace in Rabat.|
The King is Always Big News
In my room at the clinic, Mr. B and I watched the news channel of the state. The king is always the top news story. We watched an extensive piece on the king opening a new mosque and visiting a girls' literacy program. Most of the people shake his hand and try to kiss it, but he pulls it away before they do. Even though this sounds silly it's actually a Moroccan custom and I've seen people in the village do it. Mr. B said that the king's father didn't shake nearly as many hands and no one could kiss his.
He showed me three newspapers he had bought that day, one of which was by the socialist party and another by the communist party. People in his intellectual circle will buy as many as five papers each day, read them all, and try to extract some truth. All press has an agenda here. And smart Moroccans know it.
I find it very interesting how in the States most newspapers present themselves as "unbiased" and presumably present all sides of the story. Yet here newspapers are assumed to be completely biased and it's left up to the reader to distinguish truth. I will have to think about this more, but I might like the Moroccan way better since the reader must always read critically. Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect a media source to be unbiased. And perhaps it's naive for Americans to think the news that shapes their opinions and outlook is (as they like to brag) "fair and balanced."
A 14-hour Work Day
|My village dad, village mom and me.|
When I arrived back at my host home I met my "Dad" for the first time. He's friendly and speaks French well. My mom told me that Rashid cried because I was gone and everyone was worried about me. My dad was eager to speak with me. He wasted no time in telling me about the three times he had visited France by plane. There is a singing/dancing group made up of village members who travel sometimes. They are traveling to Switzerland in October. He works for 15 straight days out of the month in Marrakesh paving concrete for roads from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. — yes, 14 hours! He makes 5,000 dirham ($500) for these 15 days of work — this is good money here. He only sleeps and eats between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m. This sounds so extreme! He said it's very hard work, but it is a good job and he earns much more than what he would in the village. The other 15 days of each month he spends at home as guardian of the school — in other words, he's a maintenance man who takes care of the plants and buildings. He says that 14 hours of work each day in Marrakesh is too much so next time he will look for another job. He joked about me getting him a visa so that he could come work in the States.
I look around at the Moroccans here and wonder if they are "happy." They seem happy to me. I wonder if "happiness" and "sadness" is an American notion since I don't see sadness as an option here. People — even if times are tough — seem to have a positive attitude about life and its challenges.
|We taught them how to make American-style pizza.|
It is so hot. I've been sitting in my room all afternoon sweating. I finished the assigned book. I think about home a lot now. I cannot wait to go home. Things I look forward to: seeing my mom, dad, and brother, comfortable bed, shower/being clean, wearing little clothing, swimming, friend hang-out time, getting stuff done, exercise, having control of my time/what I do with my day/what I eat.
I'm in my room wearing a tank top. My door is open. Family members walk by and look in. I wish I knew what they thought of me with my bare shoulders.
I slept absolutely terribly last night. It was so hot and dusty. My mattress is lumpy and my pillow is rock hard. Benadryl could not even get me to sleep. When I was trying to fall asleep I was thinking of really nice things. I was in a great mood since I had had such a great conversation with my family after dinner, but my mood soured after a couple hours of frustrating sleeplessness. I was also thinking about all the things I look forward to doing when I get home: bike ride, run, cleaning my car, listening to my music, reading the newspaper, reading parts of my journal to my parents, playing piano...
For some reason I got this irrational fear that I might not make it home safely. I was thinking I really, really hope my plane makes it. I never usually even worry a little about plane crashes. I think it's just that I want to make it home so badly right now. I'm really hot and dirty. The running water at my house hasn't been working for the past couple of days.
Interviewing my Dad
The conversation I had with my dad tonight was definitely formal interview worthy, but I didn't have paper with me. Points I remember...He thinks education is very important for boys and girls — without it you are "like an ass." He's very proud of the seven years of schooling he received as a child. He studied French for two years. He would wake up early to study. According to him, you only need five hours of sleep — with more you wake up tired. He calls himself very intelligent with "a mind like electricity." He's very proud of how most of his kids are intelligent and attend school. Why did he take Nzha out? Because she cried and didn't like school. Others take their girls out when they reach a certain age because at that age you go away to the Barrage for high school and this is too far away — the girls talk to the boys and this is not good. I said the boys are the ones who are the problem! He laughed and kind of agreed. He said, even though other fathers think differently, he thinks girls should go to school, too. He said he can calculate the stars in the sky and the fish in the sea — joking. He can actually do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. He told me for probably the sixth time that he's visited France three times. Lots of Moroccans go to Italy, Spain, and France to work and earn lots of money. They pay a little money to take a secret boat over and come back with "suitcases full of money."
We compared prices of things. A shirt that costs a dollar here would probably cost $5 or $10 in the States. $15 shoes here would be sold for $60 in the States, and so on. He smokes cigarettes. He kept asking if I smoke. He asked if my parents smoke and drink. I explained how my parents drink wine like tea or fanta, but that marijuana (I think they call it kif) is against the law in the states. He asked me if I wanted some whiskey. I explained that Americans can't drink until they are 21, that some do, but definitely not on a school trip. They said over and over again that I should stay here and not go back to the States. When I do go back I must write and send photos. When I have babies I must return to visit again. I taught them some English phrases. He said he loves tourists. He seems to like America a lot, or at least think it one of the best places to live.
Cheek Kisses and Cruel Protection
|My village sisters, Hafida and Nzha.|
Yesterday afternoon I was trying to find out about the cheek kisses and I asked Lahssen how many he would give to each family member. When he said he wouldn't give his sister Nzha any, I asked why. He said he doesn't like her because in 2004 — three years ago! — he overheard her talking promiscuously on the phone to a boy. He threw the cell phone at her and told his dad and older brother on her. She got in huge trouble. To this day he still doesn't like her. I've noticed how they don't acknowledge each other at all. I asked him why what she did was such a bad thing. He didn't have much of an explanation besides simply it's bad for girls to talk to boys on the phone — it's dangerous. He said he wasn't mad at the boys, only Nzha. He could probably talk on the phone to girls if he wanted to. This is such an extreme double standard and terrible version of "protection." And I thought my brother back home was protective! I feel so bad for Nzha.
Christians are OK
I had my first conversation on religion with my family tonight. They asked me if I pray — I said yes, but not like in Islam. I told them how I'm Christian and they seemed slightly familiar with the Christian faith. But my dad was like "no, it's not like that." Jesus cannot be the son of God. He said all this in a very factual manner. I tried to explain very carefully and sensitively that I believe differently — he would just say no, it's not like that. I had to repeat myself a couple of times that we just have different beliefs until he dropped the subject. I tried to explain the similarities between Christianity and Islam — I don't think he cared to hear about that. Later, I asked my sisters if he didn't like me because I'm Christian. (I knew he liked me, but I wanted to see what they said.) They said that in the Koran it says Christians are just fine.
Double Standard and Equal Respect
The school policy is that we have only one camera for the entire group. I took the group's camera home with me and took photos. My family got a huge kick out of playing with the camera.
My mom had me lie down with her and we cuddled. She is such a fun woman. She loves joking about naughty body parts. We teach each other naughty words. Then we joke about saying those words to the Hajj and Mr. B.
I found out my brother kisses girls while he's away at school. When I asked if it would be okay for Nzha to do those things he said no. There's that double standard!
I can tell my dad is used to getting all the attention and respect. I definitely try to respect him completely, but I pay equal attention to everyone else and more to Nzha and my Mom because they don't get as much as they deserve. I think this bothers him a little.
Sanitation is a Relative Thing
This morning I found my toothpaste with holes chewed in it. I remembered hearing gnawing sounds last night, which creeped me out, but I thought it was just mice in the walls or something. I used the toothpaste to brush my teeth anyway. That just shows you how I've gotten so used to gross things, like last night when I found a nasty cricket-looking thing in my room the size of two of my fingers together. I've gotten used to so much: Turkish toilets, brushing teeth with no water, wearing the same socks for days, drinking little water, using the same tissue many times over, eating out of a communal bowl with the rest of my family licking their hands and sticking them back in, knowing the meat and diary products I'm eating were not refrigerated, using only hand gestures to communicate with my mom, having my nails clogged with dirt and food, hairy legs, and the list goes on.
|Zoe, Audrey and me with loads of makeup on.|
A Grand Farewell Party
Yesterday afternoon, in preparation for the party, Nzha applied a bunch of liquid eyeliner on me. She applied magenta lip gloss, which she also used for my eyelids and cheeks. When my classmate Kevin saw me for the first time he exclaimed "Wow! What happened to you?" I guess that explained how whorish I looked.
The moms of a few of us girls brought fancy traditional costumes to dress us in. I wore a blue and gold robe-like dress with a cardboard belt, and a big colorful red headdress with tassels and coins hanging down over my forehead. I felt like I was ready for battle. Jules said I looked like a Mongolian Princess.
The Hajj's courtyard was outfitted with mats all over the ground, lighting, and lots of small tables. We felt everyone's eyes on us Americans all dressed up in their traditional clothing as we crossed the courtyard. Men and women were segregated at either ends of the courtyard. The men were being served tea first when we were told to go over to the next-door neighbor's house to eat. The party was technically supposed to start at 8, but, of course, on Moroccan time people didn't show up until 10 and we probably didn't eat until 11 or 12. All of us girls ate separately with the women. They served tea, then beef tajine with bread, then the sweet delicious pasta stuff and finally watermelon.
We were summoned around 1 a.m. to rejoin the men to watch Awash (traditional performance with drumming and singing). As we walked in, the strong drumbeat had already started. It was the coolest sound. My ears could feel the reverberations coming from the many hands striking the goatskin drums. Soon the whiny, like-nothing-I-had-heard-before singing commenced. My dad was leading the drumming and singing men. I was completely mesmerized for the first few numbers. After a while a group of women, led by my mom, joined in. They were all dressed up in silver and white robe-like dresses, like the one I wore, with red headdresses. They stood in a line, shoulders touching, bouncing up and down, side to side a little, and clapping their hands in a synchronized rhythm.
A couple of the women every once in a while would let out this crazy shrill cry with their tongue shaking up and down ending with iyiiii! Mr. B called to me and motioned for me to join the rhythm. I was ready to try it so I went up and stood next to my mom. Pretty soon I had the clapping rhythm and foot movements down and the rest of the American girls had joined me. Half the time, I felt ridiculous, and the other half of the time, I was part of the village community and just having fun. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life — surrounded by most of the village gathered all in one place. The performances lasted quite a while and the performers worked up quite a sweat. A group of the performing men handed their drums over to their sons including Lahssen while they danced in a line.
The Hajj followed the two-hour Awash performance with a long prayer. Everyone said the equivalent of "amen" throughout his message.
|American girls join our mothers in the Awash singing, dancing, and clapping.|
Before heading home, we divvied up the cookies and brownies we made to take home to our families. Mine liked the brownies, but not the cookies because they were "too hard."
I walked home in the dark with my family and a bunch of our cousins. We only had a couple small flashlights among us so I almost wiped out quite a few times. I felt so close to my family at that time — like I was just another daughter. It was after 3:00 by the time we got home. I was exhausted from wearing all that clothing, dancing, and eating all that food. So for the first time in five days I was able to fall asleep right away.
I'll Come Back Someday and Our Babies Can Meet
I set my alarm this morning to allow for more time than just packing so I could spend a final hour with my family. They all came into my room to hang out while I finished packing. With each little thing I did I thought of how it was the last time I would ever do that: squat over that Turkish toilet that I got to know so well, carry the little round table back to the kitchen after eating my last breakfast of that tea and homemade warm round of bread, stepping on donkey droppings the whole walk down from the house.
While we were chilling in my room as a big happy, but sad family, Hafida started tearing up a little. I didn't expect to cry because I'm not usually quick to tears. But I couldn't help but choke up and soon tears were running down Nzha's, my Mom's, Rashid's, and my own cheeks. I didn't want to leave this family or this place. I was so ready to leave, but I wasn't. It was really difficult to swallow my tears and I had to spend all my energy on trying my best to not cry again. Even little macho Lahssen's eyes were watering a little.
My whole family walked me out with my stuff to the tree where the rest of the group awaited us. I kissed Nzha, Hafida, and especially Fatima (my mom) many many times on the cheeks. I even kissed Rashid, Lahssen, and my dad goodbye, even though I had an inkling that a girl my age wouldn't usually do that with guys like that in their culture. As we walked down the road away from them the tears I had held back began to flow. I was excited and ready to move on, but very sad to leave them with the thought that I probably will never see them again despite the number of times I half-jokingly reassured them that yes, I will return — I will come back with my brother, my parents, my husband, my babies — come back to the village and meet my brothers' and sisters' babies.
Homecoming — Scars, Souvenirs, and a Broader Outlook
|During our visit to the association I helped teach English to this young boy.|
We woke up at five this morning to eat an early breakfast and board the bus for an hour ride to the airport. Security was intense at the Casablanca airport, yet not as uptight as it is in the US. They checked our passports four different times. They rummaged through my backpack and even felt up my body.
I can't believe we're going home. The trip was awesome and I don't like thinking about the fact that I'm leaving Morocco, but I'm so ready to be home.
A surprise on this trip was learning about the "rise of Islam" that is still happening today. That refers to the rise in popularity of fundamentalism. More and more women are covering up more, for instance. This was so interesting since it seems to contrast with the modern movement of secularization that the West is undergoing. It fascinates me that discontent powers a civilization to swing like a pendulum from conservative to liberal (as the USA did through the 20th century). Today Islamists are swinging to the right...resisting secularist democracy and capitalism.
I can't stress enough how invaluable it has been to get to experience the Arab world. That is something that never could have happened in Seattle. The trip brought Islam "home" to me. It's no longer abstract and foreign. I now understand many of its values and how religion shapes an Arab country. I have learned the importance of the "empowerment of women."
At a ONE Campaign conference a few years ago I was asked which G-8 summit goal I viewed as most crucial toward eliminating poverty. At the time I responded that secondary education was most crucial toward eliminating poverty because I believed education to be the most empowering tool a person could acquire. Now, if I were asked the same question I would say the empowerment of women, because of the tremendous benefit an educated mother has on the whole family. Second — any education can be made available, but with powerless women, kept prisoner to housework, the entire family suffers.
|The association gifted us with papers with our names written in Arabic.|
The suppression of women is a huge problem today that is even escalating with the rise of a fundamentalist brand of Islam. It is an unfortunate setback for Muslim society and it would be a huge shame if we just stood back and let it happen. On the other hand, how appropriate is it for us — even if we are well-meaning — to butt into their "internal" and social affairs? Is it right for me, a Western Christian, to presume to know what is right for an Arab Muslim?
Do gender equality issues trump those concerns? I really don't know. I used to have an aversion to what seemed overly feminist emphasis placed on global gender issues. This trip has made me realize their relevance and importance, and I look forward to working on improving the problem through projects I will pursue.
I just reread the first couple pages of this journal on why I was going on this trip and what my hopes were. I have never been further outside of my comfort zone. I rarely get homesick, but since I was in such foreign situations, I ended up getting significantly homesick. I had never visited a poorer place than that Moroccan village. I was constantly on edge about assuming an appropriate gender role as a teenage girl in Muslim surroundings. The world of Islam is complex. I am by no means an expert on it, but I now understand significantly more about it.
The whole equating Islam with "terrorism" thing doesn't make any sense to me at all. I had kind of expected to learn why they hate America, but the reality is that Moroccans love Americans. They aren't fans of George W. Bush and for the same reasons that I'm not either. So the reality is that only select Muslims, who are more fundamentalist, find reason to hate the US enough to attack us. The real reasons behind this hatred I have yet to learn.
This trip did not have the effect on my materialistic mentality in the way I expected it would have. I can't say that I have been overcome with enough guilt, nor do I come home thinking I should consume less because it's unfair that others are lacking. The experience I did have in this regard was surprising — I simply experienced hands-on a simpler lifestyle. I didn't pity them as much as I expected to. Yes, I felt bad that they can't afford to send all their kids to school, and many of them haven't been outside of Morocco. At the same time, this wasn't pity — because who said those are requirements for happiness?
|We posed for a picture with the teachers from the Association Amal Salé.|
I think it's a beautiful thing that many aspects of their traditional lifestyle have been preserved, in part thanks to that being the only affordable available option. Young adults are able to go away to the cities to get a university education, but they will return to their families to put food on their table and grow old together. They could assume nicer lifestyles (in the Western sense) if they opened the village to commercial consumerism, but they have their priorities straight — it's more important that the authentic, innocent village life is preserved.
Living with them for three weeks, I learned that Moroccan villagers are happy with what they have. I also learned that my relative affluence doesn't necessarily make me a happier person. Of course, the particular village we visited has its stuff together and there are many places in Morocco that experience a poverty that causes real suffering.
I'm not flying home feeling sorry for my Moroccan family and friends. I don't want to bring to them "superior" elements that are American culture. They don't want or need that.
This trip has made me slightly less materialistic. I would feel disgust if I followed such a month-long trip with a shopping spree. I just don't need that. I've also grown to appreciate being in a more natural state (i.e. no makeup, less time spent grooming and natural unprocessed foods). I'm sure these feelings will carry over to the way I live after returning home.