Week 4: saying thank you and good bye to Morocco

I recognize my privilege in not only being able to travel and spend the past month in Morocco, but also to be able to compare it to my life in the United States. I acknowledge that everyone has different experiences and reactions to those experiences. However, I have shared my time and thoughts with other female volunteers from the United States who have felt similarly (hi Julia), so I know many of my experiences, both good and bad, are not isolated. That being said, thank you and good bye, Morocco.

I am incredibly appreciative of the warmth and hospitality I experienced in Morocco, especially from my host family and students. Although I very clearly don’t speak French or Arabic, I have learned a mom is a mom everywhere as my host mom yells at me to eat more, points out my sunburn, and instructs me to make sure my purse is safe before I head out. I have been (overly) fed, housed, and taught so much about Moroccan culture and daily life. I was welcomed with open arms into my host family’s home and to their dining room table and shown respect and excitement to learn in my classroom. However, I am also appreciative I am heading home where it is inappropriate and unacceptable to treat any woman walking down the street like an object to call out to. I am appreciative I will no longer have to wear sunglasses everywhere I go to avoid making eye contact with men on the street.

I am in awe of the English abilities of students who have just started learning from a system that seems to frequently fail them or have taught themselves from television and movies. I’m encouraged by their eagerness to learn anything I am willing to share. I am again amazed by the abundance of languages and people’s ability to speak them. I am empowered to continue my education and keep fighting for the importance of education for all in my country and in others.

I am grateful for the incredible weather Morocco has shared with me the past month (despite it being a little too hot sometimes and absolutely no rain), but am also grateful I am returning to a country where I don’t have to constantly police my own body or feel like it is being policed by others, constantly second guessing if what I’m wearing is okay and full coverage enough.

My fifty cent, twenty minute taxi rides to my project in Sale, the neighboring city of
Rabat, will probably be the cheapest public transportation I will ever ride. However, I’m glad to never have to cram my body with six other people into a car meant for four with no air conditioning and a lot of traffic. I am glad to be headed back to where horns are less frequent, seat belts more abundant, and the traffic laws actually make sense to me (therefore my likelihood of being hit by a car/motorcycle/donkey seems much lower).

I am impressed by the commitment of the Moroccan people to their religion, especially during Ramadan. Fasting for almost sixteen hours in the heat of the summer is incredibly impressive, and something I have learned I can not do. To watch a whole city shut down any and all restaurants during the day is so interesting and there’s nothing comparable in the United States. I find the laws in place, such as being put in jail for three months if you publicly break the fast, to be so interesting, despite their clear roots in the importance of religion to the country. I have never been anywhere that religion plays such a critical role in daily life, as I am reminded five times a day by the call to prayer that echoes throughout the city. It has also made me think about Muslims who observe this holy month in a country like America, where their daily lives aren’t able to be altered to accommodate such an undertaking. It has been incredibly interesting to get to experience and while I have eaten quite a bit of fruit, protein bars, and McDonald’s (the only restaurant open) the past two weeks since Ramadan has started, I am glad I had the opportunity to see Ramadan in Rabat. And the iftar (breaking of the fast) is an incredible feast every night.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Iftar with my host family

Everyday I am approached by people selling tissue packets on the street or shoeless kids looking for food or money. I pass women with babies in their arms, Syrian refugees, and many people with physical disabilities who sit on the street looking for money. I am reminded that while it is incredibly sad, these instances exist in the United States. It is my hope that countries can work to aid their homeless and disadvantaged, rather than leaving them to find their own way.

I have frequently become frustrated with the propensity for people to stare at me or make comments because of the color of my skin. I definitely stand out and that can be uncomfortable sometimes. But every time I feel myself becoming frustrated with the blatant staring, I think about how this happens in America, just not to people that look like me. People are not only stared at, but persecuted for what they look like. I am reminded of this when my students ask “what do Americans think of Muslims” and “what are stereotypes of Muslims” and about policies that have been put into place in recent months. I have to remind myself that my discomfort is minimal compared to what many experience, not only on the street, but through discrimination in school, work, housing, and beyond.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to be in Morocco for the past month (minus two days in Spain) and to have met wonderful people here. I will miss our conversations in the classroom ranging from religion to politics to soccer to food (a lot of talking about food). The ability to compare cultures through open discussion has been so eyeopening and interesting and I’m so appreciative of the environment of the classroom I had the opportunity to teach in. It was definitely a challenging experience, considering my inability to speak Arabic to explain things they didn’t understand, never having lesson planned before, and apparently not actually knowing the English language very well, but also incredibly rewarding. I never anticipated “teaching English in Morocco” would largely be 20-35 year old men just wanting the opportunity to use the English language, but I think it’s remarkable the NGO creates a welcoming space for students of any age to come and learn in whatever capacity they want or are able to.

My last day of class

Morocco has a wealth of history and places to explore, and I was only able to see and do so much. The juxtaposition of a developing nation that has garnered widespread access to technology is a really complex but amazing experience. I am so thankful for all I have learned and gained from my time here, albeit kind of short. Above all, I am incredibly thankful to this experience for teaching me I am capable of surviving, and even enjoying, living in a place where I don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and didn’t even entirely know what my task would entail before arriving. It’s comforting to have this knowledge as I head into my last year of college without knowing where the next couple years will take me. I was nervous for this trip and I’m glad I proved my worst fears wrong. However, I am excited to go back to daily showers, iced coffee, being able to speak the language, prompt service, my friends and family, and the ability to wear shorts when it’s ninety degrees.

2 thoughts on “Week 4: saying thank you and good bye to Morocco

  • June 10, 2017 at 8:20 pm
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    This is amazing!!! I had visited Morocco this year as well and was able to experience the culture by staying with a host family. I’m glad you had such an amazing experience and really learned about how to adapt to an unfamiliar culture.

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  • June 12, 2017 at 7:29 pm
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    This is a really great reflection, Katie! I know it can be impossible to love every aspect of the challenges we face, so I really appreciate the honesty you put in this post. It can be really eye-opening to see the small privileges we have in America, such as wearing shorts and daily showers, but it’s also really great to hear your experiences and consideration with the culture and what you have learned from your students, the stares on the street, and the religion. Safe travels home!

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