Research in Rabat #3

When I first talked to my parents about pursuing an internship abroad, they were vey supportive, talking about the “cultural experience” I would get. Living and working in another country, there’s definitely some major differences in everyday life, so I thought I would dedicate this blog post to some of the experiences I’ve had in Morocco that distinguish my Moroccan life from my life in the United States.

Morocco is a Muslim country, and the laws and customs here reflect certain Islamic values. For example, premarital sex is illegal, as is eating in public during the month of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, breaking the fast with an iftar meal in the evenings. I spent most of the month of Ramadan here in Rabat, which was definitely a unique experience. I would fast for the most part during the day, since it was simply easier to do so, and I wanted to be careful to avoid doing something offensive to the culture. This was definitely difficult, and something I never completely adjusted to. I really struggled with the question of whether I should fast sunrise to sundown or not during my time in Morocco. I eventually ended up deciding to fast a few days with purpose, and be discrete with my eating habits on days when I did not fast. From my perspective, fasting is a very personal religious decision, and as someone who is not Muslim, fasting for the entire month wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate– although I know other non-Muslims spending time in Morocco during Ramadan who fasted the entire month, so hats off to them!

The streets of Morocco would be entirely empty around 7:45 in the evening, when everyone stays home to have the iftar meal together with their family. It’s impossible to find a taxi at this time of day, and the trains stop running– a lesson I learned the hard way. I actually really enjoyed walking around during this time of day, with the streets empty of all life but the stray cats (of which there are plenty). What I loved about Ramadan was that I got to see an entire country of people participating in the same religious rituals, all attempting to better themselves religiously and spiritually in this month of reflection. It was really beautiful to view the collective spirit in this light, something which I’d never experienced in the United States.

A lot of my friends have been curious about my experience in Morocco as a woman, as Morocco has gained a reputation as a country which isn’t the safest for women travelling/living alone. Moroccan gender roles are absolutely different than the United States. Walking around the streets, this is immediately evident from the cafes filled entirely with men sipping espressos and smoking cigarettes, eying the women walking past on the streets. Street harassment is real, even in Rabat, arguably the safest city in Morocco. That being said, I rarely if ever felt unsafe– not to justify any of the catcalling or unwanted attention that women (Moroccans and foreigners alike!) experience on a daily basis, but a lot of it is just founded in different perspectives of what male/female relationships should look like, and the catcalling is mostly harmless (if irritating). Rabat is a very safe city, although I spent a weekend in Marrakesh, where I was glad to be travelling with a male friend. Long story short– living in Morocco as a woman is absolutely extremely different from living in the US as a woman, but I wouldn’t by any means describe the quality of life as inherently worse, and have met plenty of amazing, strong, empowered Moroccan woman who put stereotypes of helpless and oppressed women in Arab countries to shame.

It would be impossible to consolidate the cultural experience of Morocco into one blog post, but I’ve hopefully at least touched upon at least a few of the aspects that my friends/family have been most curious about. It’s also worth mentioning that Moroccan culture is extremely warm and welcoming, and everyone I’ve met has been more than willing to share their customs and traditions with me. Of course everything comes with its rough edges, but I’ve loved being able to immerse myself in such a culturally rich country, and learn more every day.

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